Degree Type


Date of Award


Degree Name

Master of Science


Greenlee School of Journalism and Communication

First Advisor

Lulu Rodriguez


Media observers have warned that late night comedy shows to which many are now drawn can make impressionable young adults cynical about the political process. Do late night comedy shows have informative effects? This study examines how college students use and obtain gratifications from two TV news program genres (regular network news and late-night comedy shows), which of these two program types contribute more to political knowledge, and what is the influence of other antecedent variables (including exposure and attention to news content, attitude toward politics, involvement with politics) and demographic characteristics on political knowledge.

A post-test only quasi-experimental design was conducted to gather data. Four hundred undergraduate students were randomly assigned to two experimental conditions, one group watched a CNN news segment and another saw a clip of The Daily Show. Both treatments discussed presidential candidate Barack Obama's visit to the Middle East at about the same running length. These experimental stimuli, embedded within an online questionnaire, were followed by a 15-item knowledge quiz.

The results show that audience members were able to identify specific media content that will satisfy specific needs, and that their media choices were goal-directed. More importantly, those who watched the CNN news segment gave lower knowledge scores than those who watched The Daily Show clip. The subjects said they watch late night comedy shows mainly to be entertained, but also to satisfy their information needs. The findings suggest that learning, a secondary use and gratification sought from exposure to comedy, happens in the process of being entertained.

A positive correlation was found between attention paid to political news content and involvement in politics, and with attention to political content in regular newscasts and attitude toward politics. Males were also likely to produce higher knowledge scores.

The results do not lend support to the concern that comedy shows skew political content in such a way as to adversely affect young adults' perception of the political process. On the contrary, the findings show that information conveyed with humor can add to the wealth of information individuals possess about a political topic or issue.


Copyright Owner

Susu Qin



Date Available


File Format


File Size

106 pages

Included in

Communication Commons